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La Vuelta: Stage 17 Another day at the office

Dekengolb wins again. No change in the top five on GC. Another day.

There were plenty of scenic views and the action was entertaining as well. It just did not feel very important after the last few mountainous stages. The peloton surely enjoyed the lower stress of the day. It was not exactly a Sunday fun run though especially near the end. The bunch was split very near the end, but the top GC contenders were all paying attention and did not lose time.

The break was very strong but they were shut down near the end, almost within sight of the line. Degenkolb did not have it easy as most of his team mates had been dropped, and had to fight off the likes of Matthews and Cancellara to the line.

La Vuelta: Stage 16 The cream rises

The queen stage of this year’s Vuelta took in five mountain climbs, including the final one to the finish line. The day was always set for the grand finale, but the setting of the scene was intriguing. There were plenty of team tactics during the stage and the best were judging their efforts superbly. Uran was in trouble early and looked terrible. He was dropped long before the end and lost a heap of time. He has been suffering from illness for several days and it was obviously too much today.

OPQS had plenty of action up front as well. Brambilla was too excited about being in the lead and ended up in a fight with Tinko’s Rovny. Who knows what the cause of the dispute was, but they had a decent go at each other for several kms uphill. Brambilla seemed to the worse aggressor but it would be a surprise if Rovny was clean of fault. They were both thrown out of the race before the end of the stage. Brambilla was still at the front when disqualified, and with typical Italian hand waving did not leave quietly. There is something daft about fighting cyclists though, they typically have the build of featherweights and sitting on a bike does not tend towards a decent pugilist stance. So the scrap looked more like a weak pillow tussle than a rumble in the jungle.

Sky and Froome were in better form especially on the last climb. Froome used his team wisely and when they were spent, he attacked. Only Contador could match him. He sat on Froome’s wheel but unlike the others in the last few days, Froome did not even look at his rival and just rode hard. He put a decent gap on the likes of Valverde and sustained his effort to maintain it. Contador was always looking comfortable enough on Froome’s wheel and it was no surprise when he attacked. His burst of speed put 20s into Froome in only a few metres of road. The Contador of old dancing away to the stage victory.

Contador was only 15s ahead of Froome but picks up the stage win’s bonus seconds. Froome has almost caught Valverde on GC but the podium positions remain the same for now. Valverde may well lose a runner up spot very late in another grand tour. Rodriguez is running out of chances to climb onto the podium, let alone win the race. It is looking more like another top five but no top prize again for Purito.

Contador has been the best of the Vuelta and looks back to his old form. Froome has lacked top end speed but has ridden wisely to be in contention for the overall win. Valverde and Rodriguez have been too interested in competing against everyone on the road rather than aiming for the overall goal. However, the top five looks decided and it is now just a question of who in which place.

La Vuelta: Stage 15 Attacking is so much fun

The top climbers repeatedly attacked each other in the final climb but in the end it did not achieve much. Contador tried to seal the race win but was unable to get rid of Valverde, who seemed more interested in sucking his wheel than helping eliminate their shared rivals. Rodriguez also matched his fellow Spaniard’s attacks. They spent so much time marking each other they allowed Froome to keep pace. Froome was out the back early again, but just paced himself all the way up the hill. It was amazing to watch how his steady pace cancelled out the attacks of the climbers. He would overtake them regularly then be distanced again in the next flurry of attacks. Froome will be very satisfied to have survived the stage, he lost the race here a few years ago.

Niemiec was the best of the break today and survived to claim a fine stage win. He is one of many Polish cyclists who have shown they are world class.

Uran struggled again and is now out of contention at 3 minutes. Aru has overtaken him and moves into fifth. The fight for the podium appears to be between the top five: Contador, Valverde, Froome, Rodriguez and Aru. However, tomorrow’s hard mountainous stage could shake up the leaderboard.

La Vuelta: Stage 14 Slinky Malinki

The day featured two hard Category 1 climbs. The first was very long but it was the second that was more important. It was very steep and the rides crawled slowly up, seemingly in slow motion at times. The break had plenty time in hand and when Zaugg attacked he looked odds on for the win. However, Hesjedal ground his way back and timed his effort superbly to take the win. The Canadian is very deceptive, who would think such a large frame would be well suited to climbed steep hills.

The main action was amongst the GC favourites. Froome was out the back early but set his own pace and amazingly overtook the rest late in the stage, He even gained a few seconds. He seems to be stronger on the moderate gradients but unable to keep up when the going is steeper or when the better climbers attack. He is lacking the top end acceleration of last year but is managing his energy well and keeping in contact. The others must be worried that they cannot dispatch him.

The time gaps between the top few were small but Valverde was dropped near the end. Uran struggled and lost almost a minute. He was looking great after the time trial but has not been able to climb well since.

La Vuelta: Stage 13 Sting in the tail

The stage seemed to be shaping up for a bunch sprint, but the finish was much harder than expected. Orica and FDJ worked hard to close down the break, but ended up with nothing to show for their efforts. Instead it was Navarro who timed his attack perfectly and closed out a rare and special victory. He has worked for others, mostly Contador, for many years and joined Cofidis recently to race for his own glory. He was lucky enough on this stage that he is not enough of a threat and popular enough (or just not unpopular) to be allowed to escape.

There were plenty of attacks amongst the GC favourites, but they finished together and Contador is still safely in the red jersey.

La Vuelta: Stage 12 A day off on the bike

When the race was announced, this stage always looked like a day off for the GC. The eight lap course looked more like a criterium or kermesse circuit and it was also one of the few opportunities left for the sprinters. The stage seemed to progress as if they were on an easy day out. Except Krizek, who went out on a long break by himself. A decent sized break would have struggled to stay ahead and he had almost no chance whatsoever. However, we know who he is now and with Cannondale folding soon, he may have felt the need to show his talents on this world stage.

The stage did, of course, finish in a sprint but a crash split the field near the end. That left Degenkolb without much competition and he easily picked up another stage win.

La Vuelta: Stage 11 Quintana down and out

The stage was set for a grand finale with the Category 1 climb to the finish line. However, the big news was earlier on when Quintana crashed again and this time did not get back on his bike. One crash can quite often lead to another as an injured rider, or just one that has lost a bit of nerve, crashes again the next day. The young Columbian was not the only one to leave the race as the same crash took out of a few more. The peloton is likely to gradually reduce in size, as stage wins look unlikely, tired legs cannot continue or preparation for the worlds result in many leaving the race.

Italian star Aru followed up a superb win the Giro with a similar performance to claim the stage win today. He is also high on GC so can still hope of repeating a podium finish and is only just over two minutes back. He caught and easily passed Gesink, who had a very visible but largely futile attack. Gesink has failed to live up to his promise and needs a good win or two to get his career back on track. Hanging a few seconds in front of the bunch is not the best way to achieve that.

Sky was working very hard early in the climb, too hard when Cataldo took over as it was Froome that was popped out the back. They do not look the refined outfit of last year. Kiryienka was on a trade mark solo attack which was a waste of energy. Sky does not need to be advertising their jersey, so why are they wasting resources on pointless attacks? At one stage it looked like Kiryienka would get off the bike and wait for the bunch when it was clear that he would not win the stage.

There were some gains and losses in the GC, but probably not too significant. Valverde and Contador won bonus seconds for finishing first and second. Uran, Sanchez and Dan Martin lost a few seconds when they could not keep up near the end. Barguil and Keldermann lost about a minute.

 

 

La Vuelta: Stage 10 Quintana crashes

This individual time trial was only of moderate length at 37km but had a hard climb and technical descent. Whilst it may not decide the race, a good performance was always going to be important.

Tony Martin won the stage, which was no surprise, but the best performance was from his team mate Uran. He was only 18s down and well ahead of the other favourites. Valverde and Sanchez also had very good times. Contador had a decent run and moves into the race lead, but he might be surprised to have lost time to Uran.

Froome had a poor stage and lost 52s. He was all over the bike early in the stage. He settled down later and admitted afterwards that he had gone out too hard. An usual error for such a good tester, was this an excuse for lack of form? He has now had several bad days in a row and needs fortune to turn his way soon.

Quintana was the big loser after a spectacular crash just after the climb and at the start of the descent. He was fiddling with his shoes and went into a corner too fast. He hit the barrier and over the bars, luckily onto the road and just rolled over. He could have smashed himself quite badly and was shaken up. Eventually he got back on but lost over 3 minutes and with the race lead. He has probably also lost the chance to win the race.

 

La Vuelta: Stage 9 Contador on the attack

Any question about Contador’s quality and ambition were answered today. On the final decisive climb, Contador followed Dan Martin’s attack and when he saw that the other favourites were struggling he carried the attack through. Quintana and Rodriguez just caught him at the line, and Quintana takes the lead, but it was Contador that has lit up the race. Froome was eating only 5km from the line, so there were signs that he was not having a good day. A rider on form does not search for energy so close to the finish. He was not able to follow the attacks but only lost a few seconds in the end, so was able to manage his effort to the finish.

Anacona won the stage. He was in the huge break of more than 30 riders. It is unusual that so many are allowed to escape the peloton. That suggests Movistar either was not interested or perhaps unable to control the stage early on. It is very risky to allow large breaks to form, as they can gain many minutes on the peloton. That can launch an outsider into the race lead and even win the race.

Despite all the action, the gaps in GC have not really opened up and the list of contenders is still quite long. Kelderman had the worst day out of the remainder of my watch list and lost about a minute. That leaves Gesink clearly in front of the trio of Belkin leaders.

 

La Vuelta: Stage 8 Dodgy Sprinters

The best sprinter in the race won again today, but after complaining about being shut out the other day, Bouhanni nearly took out Matthews with a mad final fling at the line. He could easily have been disqualified and probably should have been. The sprint ended up being a straight out battle between the top fast men, but the lead up was anything but typical. The peloton had been splintered by crosswinds and hard riding. There were only a dozen or so out front in the last 10km but Giant Shimano chased it down and there were over 50 in the leading bunch at the line. Quintana was lucky as he was one of those in the second bunch. In the end there was no significant movement in GC.